Despite the fact that the hot stove is simmering with news regarding superstar lefty slugger Juan Soto and the Yankees reportedly trading names with the San Diego Padres in a prospective deal, that doesn’t mean that Cody Bellinger is off the table.
Bellinger is the top free-agent outfielder on the market, presenting a phenomenal defensive option to play centerfield and first base, but he is also coming off an elite offensive season after two down years. The concern with Bellinger is that he posted career-low slugging metrics, notably a 31.4% hard-hit rate, 6.1% barrel rate, and 87.9 mph average velocity.
Is Cody Bellinger Bound For Regression?
With his slugging metrics down but his production up, some may pose the argument of significant regression. He hit .307 with a .356 OBP, including 26 homers and 97 RBIs, with a 134 wRC+ this past season. He hadn’t hit over .210 since the 2020 Covid abbreviated campaign, with his best season coming back in 2019. Reports have fluctuated on his potential asking price, but Jim Bowden of The Athletic believes he will land a deal in the range of six years, $144 million.
This contract would pay $24 million per season until his age 34 campaign. It is a substantial amount of money but not harmful to the Yankees’ long-term plans. However, their interest in Yoshinobu Yamamoto in a deal that could exceed $200 million complicates their financial flexibility. That is not even to mention Soto and his expected $30 million in arbitration before a gargantuan extension in 2025.
Bellinger at $24 million isn’t the worst deal in the world, especially since Anthony Rizzo is earning $20 million for the 2024 season before his contract expires. Paying slightly more than that for Bellinger, who proved to be an elite bat this past season and can transition to first base, may be worthwhile.
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The Yankees Need Outfielders
General manager Brian Cashman has already indicated that he wants two new outfielders, preferably left-handed. This past season, Bellinger played 686 innings in the outfield, recording four outs above average and a .990 fielding percentage. At first base, he posted five defensive runs saved across 421.2 innings. That type of value would go a long way, allowing the Yankees to fill centerfield while Jasson Dominguez recovers and then transition Bellinger to first base after next season.
There may be a world where they land both superstar lefty outfielders, but then signing Yamamoto to a deal seems unlikely. The Yankees will have to choose two of the three players to make significant moves on, and it seems as though their attention is focused on Soto for the time being, unless the Padres either take him off the table or find another way to offload salary.